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January 11, 2021 12:30 PM, EST

Railroads Achieve Full Positive Train Control Implementation, FRA Says

Railroad engineer using PTC technologyA Union Pacific engineer using PTC technology. The technology is operational across the 57,536 railroad route miles as required by federal law, the FRA said Dec. 29. (Union Pacific)

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The country’s freight and passenger railways are operating with automatic braking system technology, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The technology, known as positive train control, or PTC, is operational across the 57,536 railroad route miles as required by federal law, the FRA noted Dec. 29. Operators include Class I railroads, as well as Amtrak and commuter railroads. Railroad stakeholders had until Dec. 31 to fully install the automatic braking systems.

“Achieving 100% PTC implementation is a tremendous accomplishment and reflects the department’s top priorities — safety, innovation and infrastructure,” said Elaine Chao, the former Transportation Secretary who helped lead USDOT’s efforts to ensure access for PTC.

“On behalf of extraordinary professionals at FRA and myself, I congratulate the railroads, particularly their frontline workers, as well as PTC system suppliers and vendors on this transformative accomplishment,” added FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. “Furthermore, many industry associations … have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to supporting this unprecedented undertaking.”

Ronald Batory

Batory

Organizations Batory cited were:

  • Association of American Railroads
  • American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
  • American Public Transportation Association
  • Commuter Rail Coalition
  • National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association
  • Railway Supply Institute
  • Railway Systems Suppliers

Class I freight railroads include Norfolk Southern combined railroad subsidiaries, BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern Railway, Soo Line Railroad, Grand Trunk Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad. Railroads also reported achieving interoperability on PTC-governed lines.

“America’s freight railroads continue to strive towards an accident-free future through a tireless commitment to addressing the major causes of accidents — track, equipment and human error. Continued safety improvement in the years ahead, however, will require new and different solutions,” according to a statement from the Association of American Railroads. “Technology is one of those solutions. Widespread deployment of new technologies, like positive train control, designed to address human error, will open the door to an exciting new era of safety and efficiency improvement for U.S. freight railroads.”

To facilitate PTC installment, USDOT provided more than $3.4 billion in grants and loans to railroads. The technology is designed to assist with the prevention of train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments and movement of trains through a switch in the wrong position, per USDOT. Additionally, PTC is designed to help prevent train incursions into established work zones.

The independent National Transportation Safety Board consistently highlighted a need for implementing PTC in its “Most Wanted List” of priorities for policymakers. To emphasize the point, NTSB has noted recent railroad crashes nationwide.

On Capitol Hill, the top transportation policymaker in the House of Representatives welcomed FRA’s announcement.

Peter DeFazio

DeFazio

“For years, I have worked diligently with my colleagues to ensure that railroads follow through on implementing this lifesaving technology and be held accountable if they fail to do so in a reasonable timeframe,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said last month. “Congress held firm on the revised compliance date, and today’s certification marks an important achievement for railroads in installing this lifesaving technology before the end-of-year deadline.”

DeFazio continued, “While there is always room for safety improvements and more work lies ahead, completion of PTC installation ushers in a new chapter in railroading safety. And rest assured, our committee will continue working to ensure that tragedies like those in North Philadelphia, Graniteville, S.C., DuPont, Wash., Chatsworth, Calif., and so many more never happen again.”

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